Obama Administration and Federal River Commission Move to Allow Drilling Along the Delaware River
Last week, the Delaware River Basin Commission issued a draft of their regulations on Marcellus Shale development using hydraulic fracturing along the waterways that contribute to the Delaware River, drinking water for upwards of 14 million people.
If the regulations are adopted next spring, hydraulic fracturing could begin as early as March on an industrial scale in Wayne, Pike, Monroe, Carbon, and Schuylkill counties. Currently, there is a DRBC-issued moratorium on all Marcellus Shale development in the Delaware River Basin except for controversial exploratory wells that have been drilled in Wayne County by Hess Oil.
The DRBC commissioners include a representative of the Obama administration, Brigadier General Peter A. DeLuca, and the governors of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Issuing the regulations is the first time the Obama administration has taken action towards permitting fracking. This is a "change" indeed.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in America that thinks we’ve got an energy policy that’s working,” Obama said addressing the recent Republican victories in midterm elections, specifically citing natural gas vehicles and the use of natural gas as overlapping priorities of Republicans and Democrats.
The big question, as Obama put it, is: “How do we move forward on that agenda?”
The DRBC jurisdiction includes the pristine Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, state forest land, protected streams, fruitful farmland, designated habitat for many endangered species, and my home in Pike County, which grew in population by 25.7 percent from 2000 to 2006, one of the fastest growing in the country according to the Census Bureau.
The strategy of tighter regulation, as opposed to making the moratorium a permanent ban, is largely applauded by many Big Green organizations, such as the Sierra Club national office via Executive Director Michael Brune and Deputy Conservation Director Bruce Nilles, that share the gas industry's talking point that Marcellus shale gas is a "bridge fuel to a clean energy future" and that drilling should occur "responsibly". In November, Nilles presented at the World Shale Gas conference in Texas alongside drilling company executives. Local Sierra Club chapters are much stronger on this issue and have dissented from the national position in the past.
However, there is no way to bring in heavy industrial scale drilling into areas like the Delaware River basin and not destroy our local economies, our forests, and, potentially, our water and air.
My father is a landscaper and my mother is a small shop owner and, with relatives, built our small ranch home in the Poconos of Pike County more than 20 years ago. They spent their entire lives paying for our home, our family's single most valuable asset.
What will happen to the property values that are generated by the scenic outdoors, recreation, and natural aesthetics of the region? A view from the tall Pocono ridge lines that overlook our valleys that is pock-marked with 10 to 15 acre well pads, streaks of 50-yard wide clear cuts for major pipelines like the Tennessee Pipeline, cryogenic processing facilities, and heavy truck traffic will be a tragedy for me to see. Properties with drilling infrastructure nearby or on them will be appraised for less and people like my parents will lose their entire lives' earnings they've invested in their homes. As property tax revenue shrinks due to low appraisals, taxes will increase and put pressure on struggling families in our region who saved their entire lives to pay off mortgages and own their own homes. See "Houses for Shale"
As well pads move in, the wildlife like the deer herds and protected native trout will be affected by the toxic, carcinogenic waste water produced by the drilling in addition to the risk of methane gas releases from high pressure fracking. Rural sportsmen that subsist off of venison will lose valuable hunting and fishing grounds and be forced to discard harvested deer if there are signs of chemical exposure. In Dimock, PA, an entire community can no longer drink out of their water wells and have to receive municipal water by order of the PA Department of Environmental Protection after Cabot Oil contaminated the aquifer. There is nowhere to haul the waste water that is mixed with over 500 chemicals to be treated to drinking water standards and it is very likely that municipal water plants will take the water to be dumped into the Delaware, like the Monongahela River in southwest PA.
The Audubon Society recently did a study on the effects of fully developed drilling in southwest PA on forests. A similar disaster will be in store for the Delaware River watershed if a movement does not stop the DRBC from lifting the moratorium and permitting wells. For more information click here and here. (PDF)
The Catskill Mountainkeeper had this to say about the draft regulations:
The draft drilling regulations issued by the Delaware River Basin Commission are a travesty.
* They call for "decision-making based on sound scientific principles"-that's a reasonable standard, but one that the DRBC cannot possibly hope to meet. Because there is not a single credible study of hydraulic fracturing and drinking water safety, the commission lacks the knowledge it needs to effectively ensure safe drinking water for the fifteen million Americans who get their water from the Upper Delaware River Basin.
* The draft regulations note that gas wells "may have a substantial effect, either individually or cumulatively, on the surface water and groundwater resources of the basin," yet the DRBC refused to conduct a cumulative impact study to determine what those effects might be.
* The useful provisions that the draft regulations do contain amount to little more than a wish list, since the DRBC lacks the staff to enforce its own regulations. Instead it will have to rely on already overburdened state agencies and self-reporting by an industry that is notorious for cutting corners and evading regulatory oversight.
* The draft regulations will ensure that the taxpayer, not the gas industry, bears the cost of cleaning up the inevitable environmental accidents. Drillers will be permitted to develop a gas well by putting up as little as $125,000. Cabot Energy has already tried to saddle Pennsylvania taxpayers with the twelve million dollar cost of bringing clean water to Dimock after they polluted the aquifer in that town.
In issuing its draft regulations before it has the necessary scientific studies in hand, the DRBC ignored the urgent appeals of New York State Governor Paterson, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Congressman Maurice Hinchey, the New York City Council, the Philadelphia City Council, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service.
The public has until March 16, 2011, to submit written comments to the DRBC, and there will be three public hearings on the draft regulations. Comments can be submitted electronically or by mail to:
Commission Secretary, DRBC
P.O. Box 7360
25 State Police Drive
West Trenton, NJ 08628.
The dates and locations of the hearings have not yet been announced.
With rage and solidarity, I urge rural Pennsylvanians to resist the imminent destruction of our way of life.
Together we will overthrow the occupation of our state and drive the drillers away.
No Drilling, No Compromise.